By Brian Gilmore
Let’s not allow the tragic bombings in Boston to become an excuse to gut our civil liberties once again.
In the weeks after 9/11, our elected officials in Congress offered up the USA Patriot Act. The law attacked the nation’s founding principles under the guise of fighting a war on terror. It was overwhelmingly passed in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
The process was flawed: The bill was passed in record time, and many of the legislators who voted for the law didn’t even read it.
Only one senator voted no: Russ Feingold, D-Wisc. “There is no doubt that if we lived in a police state, it would be easier to catch terrorists,” he said. “But ... that country wouldn’t be America.”
The law allowed indefinite detentions of immigrants and noncitizens, searches of homes without knowledge of the occupants, expanded use of searches and wiretaps without court orders, subpoenas without the need for probable cause, and the forcing of libraries and bookstores to reveal what their customers were looking at or purchasing.
Despite the law’s glaring problems, it has been reauthorized in 2005, 2006, 2010 and 2011.
In 2011, after the most recent reauthorization of the Patriot Act, the ACLU published a report, “Reclaiming Patriotism,” that made the case for protection of civil liberties even in a time of uncertainty.
“More than seven years after its implementation,” the report writes, “there is little evidence to demonstrate that the Patriot Act has made America more secure from terrorists.”
But now, after another sociopathic bombing, we’re hearing the same kind of chatter about the need to squeeze civil liberties. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., has called for U.S. Muslims to be placed under surveillance just because they are Muslims.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called for suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to be declared an “enemy combatant” and for law enforcement to not advise him of his legal rights. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and other elected officials joined Graham’s call to trash the Fifth Amendment.
And while right-wing politicians may shout about the need for more hard-line legislation, fortunately the American people are not on board. By a 2-1 ratio, they prefer protecting their civil liberties to enacting new anti-terrorism legislation that may infringe on those liberties, according to a recent Time/CNN poll.
This is a good sign.
Brian Gilmore is a writer for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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